Yet more Essaouira experiences restaurants and bars.
by Slug on October 27, 2012
The Essaouira Fishing Port isn't exactly a tourist attraction, and we were rather anxious not to get in anyone's way as fisherman and traders marched backwards and forwards across the quay in the blistering sunshine. Even the cats are working hard not to miss any stray bit of small fish lobbed from a tray of catch by the men. It seems that Morocco folk appreciate the vermin catching ability of their cats and so don't begrudge them a small portion of the catch. While I love cats, the fish on the floor can make for a rather slippery moment underfoot, so as well as avoiding bumping into or disrupting the workers we also had to keep an eye out underfoot. The workers don't particularly appreciate having their photographs taken as they are pulling in their nets and putting their catch onto the quay, so you need to make sure you are discrete. One good way to get some shots of the activities at the port is to visit the nearby historic fort for 10 Dirham (approximately $1). The fort walls overlook the fishing port meaning that you get something of a bird’s eye view. One interesting part are the food stalls; we watched one busy cook barbeque fish after fish partly for sale immediately to passersby, and also I presume to local families and restaurants in the town. If you don't want to chance your arm at the local stalls (although food is prepared and cooked freshly and quickly), there is a restaurant at the port. We didn't dine there as my beloved was poorly, but I can't imagine a much more convenient location for fresh fish than here. It is also worth taking a look at the tired old rusting ships that the fishermen put their faith into each and every day. Essaouira is quite a windy city and the Atlantic Ocean is not a kindly soul so rather them than me. The fishing port area is just a small area which can be walked through in 5 minutes between Essaouira Harbour and the Seafront beloved of surfers and sun lovers.
by Slug on October 10, 2012
We arrived at our Essaouira Riad, the Dar Dayana in some style, being led by a porter with our luggage in a huge trolley wheeled through the narrow streets of the Medina. Down a narrow street and a right turn down a dead end we reached our destination, and the door opened into a little beautiful oasis of banana trees, tiled flooring and beautiful furnishings. Our hosts, a very friendly French couple showed us to our room on the second floor and invited us down for a mint tea so they could introduce us to the area. The woman had been a French teacher in the UK, so her English was very good and her partner was no slouch either. Over tea they gave us a few tips for the best restaurants, bars and a couple of things to see. The couple explained how they spent some time in France and retired from time to time to their family home here in Essaouira. Our room had a little balcony overlooking the open space garden below and was furnished simply but carefully and beautifully with a lovely Moroccan themed bathroom, with a particularly lovely tiled shower wet room. We were very happy in the room and although we only stayed 3 nights it quickly felt as though we might have lived here. I spent a happy morning sitting on the balcony (it unfortunately only fitted one chair) reading and watching the owner sketching a drawing of a woman in the garden below. The other nice thing about the Riad was that it was in the centre of things in the Medina; in the evening we could hear the voices of passersby on the main street behind the building, but it only served to make me feel comfortable in this most hospitable place. Likewise, I had got used to the pattern of life led by the calls to prayer and hardly stirred for the dawn call. Obviously, it was just a hope skip and jump to the main street in the Medina and to hunt for a few places to eat; the more touristy places were perhaps 10-15 minutes' walk away. The only potential downside to the Dar Dayana Riad is that it is in the middle of a maze of streets, although even I with my terrible sense for direction found my way back fairly easily (just look out for a couple of nearby road or shop signs that you must remember. You could arrange to dine at the Riad if you didn't fancy venturing out and I'm certain they would have given you a very good spread. We did take advantage of their offer of a bottle of wine for 100 Dirham (about £7 $10) and of course being French, we had a very nice bottle selected for us. Breakfast was served in the lovely courtyard, and with only 3 rooms to let the place never got busy. The pottery was traditional, and the food simple; just Moroccan breads, jams, yoghurt and fruit with tea or coffee. However, all was nicely made and fitted the bill perfectly. During our stay my beloved came down with the "curse of Morocco" and our hosts couldn't have been more concerned, asking whether we might like some soothing tea, or if we wanted anything from the pharmacist. Our room cost around £50 a night and truly was a perfect experience; I wouldn't fault anything. Totally Recommended (and you don't hear me too often say that!).
by Slug on October 20, 2012
To me the Medina is Essaouira's main attraction, although you could walk from one side to the other in perhaps 15 minutes and a three hour wander gave us the measure of the place. Still I loved exploring and losing myself in the narrow streets of the Medina knowing that actually if I carried straight on for a while then I'd hit the city wall and could then walk round to one of the historic gates and re orientate myself. It’s both slightly scary but very safe.The Medina is exactly what you might think it is, a maze of streets of varying width, full of shops and little street vendor restaurants. The locals are pretty friendly and happily shout out "closed" if you are walking down a non descript dead end. Some of these places were good for photos of old-as-the-hills paint peeling doors and window shutters, so sometimes I found it enjoyable just to wander along the backstreets of the Medina. It all felt very safe although I’m not one to flash my cash and have my camera on display just in case. There is good shopping in Essaouira and with a town famed for its artists a chance to pick up something a little different, particularly in the streets around the Ramparts near to the sea front. Other than that, the standard fare is on offer including leather goods, good Moroccan music CD's, rugs, gold and other jewellery and T-Shirts and other knick knacks. I always find haggling rather difficult because I'm just too polite, but in Essaouira the process is light hearted, although I still only enquired after the price of items I really wanted to avoid having a vendor chasing me down the street for ever after. One tip that some salesmen have cottoned onto is to ensure you pay only about half the original price quoted - offer a quarter and work upwards. Of course, only do that if you think the mid way price is a fair one. During the day, I found the Essaouira Medina to be a fairly sedate place with some of the blue and white painted stalls closed and mainly the tourist shops were open. At night, there is an additional buzz with the local restaurants open selling fried fish and such like and street vendors jostling for the best places to sell their wares. As well as local restaurants, there are some Western standard restaurants with gardens or open air rooftop areas with which you can watch the world go by with a slightly detached air. Obviously you can buy alcohol at many of these places, but I think staggering through the narrow streets dead drunk would be highly frowned upon. We limited ourselves to a couple of beers and then had a glass of wine or two back in our Riad if we wanted more. The Medina area was largely pretty clean although there were a few mucky corners to remind you that you weren't in well heeled Europe; likewise the regular calls for prayer reminded us that we were "far from home". We were in Essaouira for three nights, which in truth was probably one night too many as we aren't beach or sea people, and so most of our wandering was restricted to the Medina area.
As we wanted something of a pit stop we decided to visit the Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum in the middle of Essaouira's Medina. While as it turned out it wasn't as exciting as it appeared from the outside, at only 10 dirham (approximately $1) it hardly broke the bank. The Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum is named after the founder of Essaouria, who was sultan of Morocco in the late 1700s. The museum is housed in an old palace and I thought that even if the displays weren't impressive then a wander round the old building would be good. As it turned out, the building was OK, the exhibits OK but nothing particularly "stand out" appeared. Most of the exhibits are up the grand stairs, but the ground floor houses a few old turn of the last century photographs of Essaouira which are mildly interesting, even if the town looks broadly as it did then (if rather less run down now). Upstairs around the central courtyard are a few rooms with local artifacts; the most interesting to me were the local traditional clothing from the past 150 years or so. The rugs were very ordinary in style and looked pretty moth eaten; perhaps it is interesting to see how plain they were in comparison with the brighter rugs woven to catch the tourist eye today. Also on display were some traditional swords, some bits of local Roman pot and coins and some Jewish religious bits and pieces from the days there was a sizable Jewish community in the area. There was limited signage (you could tell how old things were), but very little effort to create a story about the history of the area. You are not allowed to take photos inside the Museum.In total, I think we wandered around the museum in about 25 minutes or so although in truth we could have cut it in half. However, we quite enjoyed our poke around, even if it was hardly vital to our Essaouira experience.
My beloved realised she was coming down with a tummy bug, so our first meal in Essaouira was to a fairly local Western looking hotel with a rather nice dining area outside. She gently nibbled on a Moroccan Salad (heavy on the tomato) while the wait staff looked anxiously on, while I had the stuffed Moroccan Pastilla Parcels. My meal was pleasant; a mix of seafood and chicken filled parcels. In look, they appeared more like spring rolls, rather than the chunky dish I had the evening before, but I still enjoyed that mix of savoury and sweet filo pastry with almonds. I guess the Pastilla sweet and savoury taste won’t be for everyone but it was good for me to eat a traditional Moroccan dish that wasn't tagine, cous cous or kebab. If I'm honest I think the traditional chicken (in fact they used pigeon originally back in the day) was the better taste combination, but overall I was happy. My meal came to something like £8; not bad, but fairly pricey for Morocco. The wait staff were pretty effective, although on our second visit we found them shouting at each other which spoilt the atmosphere somewhat. The bar area was lovely, and the hotel cats received a little reward for looking cute and mingling at our feet. Unfortunately, Moroccan music didn't seem to be good enough for the hotel, and we were treated to the Gypsy Kings for both of our visits. For "easy listening", I don't mind the Gypsy Kings and it has been a good decade or so since I have heard them, but I personally would have much preferred local music rather than tourist cheese. The bar itself was very attractive, and I liked the stone building inside with its low comfy sofas and cushions. It looked as though they had spent good thought in pulling the design together. It seems that Le Mechouar is also a hotel, although I cannot vouch for the rooms. Summing up, we found Le Mechouar to be a reasonable place to dine; it didn't completely wow me, and in Moroccan terms was a little on the pricey side but it was pleasant enough and didn't give my beloved's stomach any further damage.
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